Revisiting the Icicle Witch and the days before The River Kingdom

Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin
Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin

Those who’ve enjoyed the short stories free to read on this website will find a familiar name in the tale ‘A Warning Shiver’, which is now to be found in the new ‘Shadow Histories’ collection. They will discover that the Icicle Witch is now firmly entrenched in River Kingdom folklore, years after the first references to her, in ‘Patience, a Womanly Virtue’ which you can read here.

Is this all part of some cunning writerly plan, eight years in the making? That story was first published in the British Fantasy Society Yearbook 2009 after all. Sorry, no. ‘Patience’ is simply another short story where I was exploring elements that I first started putting together in the new collection’s first two stories, ‘Walking Shadows’ and ‘Noble Deceit’. The Sun Goddess and the Moon God both feature, along with the religious orders that honour them, as well as noble barons owing fealty to a king.

Though it’s interesting to look at this tale alongside the other Shadow Histories stories. It’s now apparent, with the benefit of hindsight, that this is a tale from the days of long ago, before the River Kingdom was established. It’s a story of a fragile and disputed royal succession, and of the merciless lengths some people will go to, in order to secure their own power. As well as the enduring power of enmity and the way such hatreds take on a life of their own.

Where did the idea of the Icicle Witch come from? I’m honestly not sure, other than recalling my thoughts turning to cold and ice, when I was looking for a concept of malice to set against the twin and cooperative, complementary deities embodied in the Sun and the Moon. I’d say it’s fairly obvious my subconscious went riffling through memories from my childhood reading, to draw on Narnia’s White Witch and Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, among other precursors.

I decided not to include this story in the new collection. For one thing, it’s been free to read here for a good while now. More than that, all the other stories take place in the same general time frame, generations later, when the River Kingdom is secure and prosperous. The collection’s tales also all have a magical element that’s notably absent here.

But still… if the myth of the Icicle Witch was already becoming common currency in rumour so many years before, how would such folklore become manifest in the era of the Shadow Histories? As soon as I wondered that, I realised I had the basis for a new and original story. That was something I wanted to write for this book, so that even my keenest readers will find something they’ve never seen before.

As for the sequence of events between the days of Valdese wreaking her patient vengeance, and the unquestioned rule of the Paramount King? That remains to be seen… and perhaps, written…

To learn more about the River Kingdom, its places, its peoples and its magic, click here.

For links to buy the Shadow Histories collection, click here

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